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What are the best ways to expand your vocabulary?

As a writer, you never want to remain stagnant because then your phrases and plots and characters will all begin to blend together. Now some of this is unavoidable because you’re you and all your writing is coming from you and you will never not be you, but there are ways of working to teach yourself new things so that your stories don’t begin to blend together in reader minds.

One way is to expand your vocabulary that you might have new sentences, new metaphors, new ways of saying the same old things.

1) Read. A lot.

This one’s the most obvious and the most valuable. The more you read, the more words become familiar. Different authors have different vocabularies. Different genres use different base words. Because you’re given the word within context, you’re also usually able to guess its meaning to some degree, and the more you see that same word in different contexts, the more refined its meaning will become in your own mind.

By continuously reading, especially when you’re stretching yourself beyond your normal books or authors, you can cement more words that become a part of your normal vocabulary.

Though this one is the number one best way to expand your vocabulary, it’s also the one that is the least targeted. You’ll slowly morph over time, but perhaps not as quickly as you’d like.

2) Subscribe to a word-a-day.

If you’re just interested in introducing yourself to new words in general, this can be a good way to go about it. Especially if you subscribe to one that also lists the etymology behind the word, as story tends to help you remember things better. This way, you’ll begin to pick up new words, especially if you consciously attempt to use them in your stories.

As an addition to this, there is (was?) a twitter hashtag game where you were given three specific words and you had to come up with a working sentence using all three. That is also a good exercise, though some of the words might be too dated to be useful.

3) Practice wit.

A few years ago, I happened upon a small article about how to become more witty and, as someone who felt incredibly unwitty, this intrigued me for I’d always assumed that wit was linked with intelligence and that where I lacked could not be filled.

Yet, I couldn’t have been more wrong. You see, wit is simply a skill like any other.

The secret to practicing wit was simple and yet eye-opening in that simplicity: Every time someone speaks to you, texts you, emails you, pause. Pause before you respond. Don’t say the first thing that comes to mind. Think for just a few seconds. And then say the second thing. Or the third thing.

In today’s world, it’s easy to get a text and immediately say: “Cool” or “That’s awesome” or “I’m sorry” or “That sucks.” It takes a few moments of thought to come up with something more, something…witty.

And you’re not suddenly going to become the most witty person in the world by practicing this, but it will train your brain to keep reaching. To not settle for the easy, boring, mundane response it first passes when looking for something to say.

This is especially helpful for writers because we have time between dialogue. We have the full capacity to walk away for minutes, hours, days even and come back when something really great occurs to us. But, by practicing wit in your day-to-day life, forcing yourself to pause, to think, to reach for that other response, you’ll stretch your muscles and be able to come up with something new, something different, something that might even pass as wit in your stories, but will most definitely help you practice your wider vocabulary.

4) Design-your-own exercises.

While most of the prior three have been general ways in which to increase your vocabulary, if you’re looking for specifics targeted is the way to go.

Maybe you want to write more science-fiction and sound more techie, so you write down all the words that are consistently used in sci-fi novels and practice using them in sentences. Or maybe you want to craft a more educated character who knows a great deal about a specific subject so you delve into that subject and practice its terminology. Maybe you just want to expand your verbage, so you pick useful verbs to practice using rather than relying on the same old ones you always reach for.

In this way you can consciously increase your vocabulary a few words at a time, particularly if you force yourself to use them every day in new sentences.

A word of warning though: readers can tell when you shove words into places where they don’t seem to fit, so you’ll want to really practice before the words begin to fall out naturally in your fiction.